BATMAN BEGINS

by Jonny Lieberman on March 8, 2006

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Uh… let’s just say I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, Batman Begins is a really good summertime “popcorn” flick; the action is nearly nonstop, and… I guess that’s all you really need for a successful big summer film. Oh, actually, the cast is huge and that always helps. And then on the other hand, you have the fact that Batman Begins is a summertime “popcorn” flick… oh shit. We’ve gone over this, haven’t we? Look, I’ve been in bed for three days straight and I decided to go see a movie and not only do I still have a 100 degree fever (down from 102) but there was a motherfucking earthquake during the film and I still feel like shit. OK, so, as far as comic book adaptations go, this one is done well. However, there is plenty about this latest Batman film that is really silly. Yes, fine, you caught me. I am purposefully trying to be ambivalent in regards to this film because I honestly do feel two different ways about it. Either it was good overall but parts sucked, or it was a lousy movie highlighted by some good stuff. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Though I am not sure where. Help…

I’m starting to think that the downfall of any good villain or “dark dude” is a close examination of his background. George Lucas just spent nine hours and hundreds of millions of dollars to let us know that Darth Vader became, well, Darth Vader because his wife was sick. The banality of evil, indeed. Here, Batman (who finally looks exactly like Vader minus a chin strap–seriously, if Batman’s outfit is going to get any blacker, he’s going to have to start wearing Wesley Snipes) becomes “the Dark Knight” because a mean guy killed his parents. Actually, I think Mommy and Daddy Wayne getting plugged was gone over in the first Michael Keaton Batman, only if memory serves it was the Joker that shot them, not some random criminal. And, I’m sure the comic book tells the “real” story, but seeing as how I have a sex life, I’ve never read it. In this film, we spend a good seventy-five minutes watching their murders consume him. My point is, why have such a cold and calculating (read: cool) symbol of darkness be pigeonholed by such a simplistic neurosis? Seriously, who wrote this shit, Freud? Maybe it is just a sign of our times; we need to be able to point at an underlying cause. Nothing can just be. Rather, it has to be, because. It reminds me of an article I read years ago in Rolling Stone or Spin. Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins was telling Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, “You’re argumentative because you’re a Sagittarius.” To which Thayil answered, “No, I’m argumentative because I’m an asshole.” My point, exactly. Can’t bad dudes just be assholes? Or do they have to continuously be stuck in their anal stage?

So, Bruce Wayne realizes that billions upon billions of dollars are no salve for the pain and emptiness he is feeling so he climbs a mountain in Asia and at the summit Ken Watanabe has resurrected the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. One of his pupils is Liam Neeson, aka Ducard. In a sequence lifted directly from The Matrix Ducard shows Wayne how to really kick ass all the while mumbling nonsense such as ” You traveled the world… Now you must journey inwards… to what you really fear… it’s inside you… there is no turning back. Your parents’ death was not your fault. Your training is nothing. The will is everything. If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely. Are you ready to begin?” Admittedly, Ducard’s utterings didn’t sound so lame and dorky within the context of the film. Still… who talks like that? Oh yeah, Laurence Fishburn. Seriously, if Mr. Furious Styles had played Ducard it wouldn’t have made a difference. That’s how utterly devoid of humor Neeson’s performance was. Anyhow, after Wayne “completes the training” (turns out Batman is a ninja!) he must then kill a murderer as a final step. Wayne refuses, so Ducard and Watanabe try to kill him, but he’s Batman at this point, so he kicks their asses and blows up their house. Oh, I should mention that it turns out that Watanabe’s “Shadow League” or whatever they are called not only want to destroy Gotham (because it is so corrupt), but sacked Rome, started the Plague in Europe, burned London and nuked Hiroshima. OK, I made that last one up, but why the hell stop with the Plague? If this movie had come out a year from now, Liam Neeson would have claimed responsibility for the Tsunami. Wayne, of course, wants only to save Gotham and when he returns from the mountain him and Alfred (Michael Caine, who essentially saves the movie) use his billions to set up the bat cave and all that crap. Evildoers, beware!

As I have stated several times previously, for me, the coolest parts of superhero movies are when the wannabe superheros are learning how to use their skills. Think of the training sequences in the aforementioned Matrix; or the scenes in Spider-Man where Peter is learning to aim (I don’t care if it was a Dr. Pepper commercial) and fly through the air. Stretching the definition a bit, Luke Skywalker and the Star Wars franchise was a hell of a lot more fun before he became a Jedi Knight. Why? Because Luke, and all of them, are still vulnerable. They are not perfect, not yet. We can relate, if only a bit. Here in Batman Begins, the training is pretty rushed. Sure, Ducard beats on him with a sword for a while, but it is all too quick. Once Wayne returns to Gotham, he essentially suits up and is good to go. Which is too bad, cause, like, it would have been fun to watch Batman fail a few times. Nevertheless, Christian Bale plays Batman about as well as Keaton did in the originals. He’s no Adam West, sure, but Bale is good. Er, I should say that he is good as Bruce Wayne. For some reason, as Batman, he does that thing Keaton started where when he’s dressed up in the suit he has to whisper when he talks. Honestly, Bale sounds like Nicolas Cage in Peggy Sue Got Married, all weezy and nasally. Also, and this is probably just me nitpicking, but the way they cut the mask is funny looking. Like, the sides of his head and the cheeks are muscular–like a pit bull–and the mouth opening is too small. It make’s his head look too round, too fat. Batman is supposed to be all about chins that can kill you. Bale comes off as some bloated guy in half-blackface talking softly through his nose.

 

Furthermore, Katie Holmes is no Kim Basinger. She’s too scrawny looking and really only kind of half-cute. Maybe I’m just getting old but I expect my leading ladies to look like women, not seventeen-year-olds. Though, I must admit, that her nipples were hard the entire film. So right there, that’s something. Still though, did I buy her as an unassailable, incorruptible deputy DA? Not for a minute. Like I mentioned above, the cast of this film is massive. Aside from Bale, Holmes, Watanabe, Neeson and Caine, you got Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer (who is largely wasted as a corporate stuffed-shirt, unless he is coming back in the next one as a bad guy), Morgan Freeman (also largely wasted), Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Mark Boone and Cillian Murphy. I listed Murphy last cause I simply have to mention that this guy is too good looking. Look, Christian Bale is a handsome dude, but Murphy (who plays Scarecrow) is fucking gorgeous. I was getting lost in his dreamy eyes, man. Like Holmes, Murphy was way too young for his supposed profession (in this case a psychiatrist); unlike Holmes, he was so good looking that I bought it. Whatever you are selling Mr. Murphy, I’ll take two! Changing gears a bit, one aspect of the film that was almost interesting was the fact that the relationship between Bruce Wayne’s billions upon billions of dollars and the massive amount crime in Gotham City was explored. The “criminal” who killed Mammy and Pappy was obviously downtrodden, poor and desperate. Should he have been killing? Of course not, but for Batman not to see that his personal war should be against not just those breaking the law, but the conditions that cause people to break the law, well, that would be blindness. And, in truth, they actually pay lip service to the notion that poverty is related to crime. However, just to keep the film squarely in the realm of teenage fantasy shit, we learn that it was actually The League of Extraordinary Shadow Gentlemen that killed his parents. Seriously, watch for yourself.

Homoeroticism and all that other shit aside, Batman Begins did have some good stuff going for it. Chiefly, Batman’s ride, the Tumbler. Holy shit was that thing cool. Unlike previous Batmobiles that resembled Corvettes in full leather daddy drag, this new one is just straight up mean. Think the Marine landing vehicle from Aliens bred with Dodge’s aborted Tomahawk on Jose Conseco-like steroids and you start to get the picture. Like, I want one. Badly. Also, there are a few parts where Batman is screaming at bad guys, and that was very cool. Basically, instead of an endless supply of witty zingers, Batman gets fucking angry in this one. I forget the exact setup, but he’s got a crooked cop (Mark Boone) hanging upside down nine stories up and Boone says something about cops to which Batman roars, “Do I look like a cop!!?!” Also, when Scarecrow (hi handsome) gets dosed with his own medicine* and he starts seeing a hallucinatory version of Batman, well folks, that was totally well done. Essentially, picture a solid black latex Batman with worms and bile for lips, screaming at you. Nicely done, Mr. Nolan. Unfortunately, Mr. Nolan really mucked things up when it came to the fight scenes. During a typical fight sequence in this film, I would guess that the longest shot was half a second. Everything was dark, close up, blurry and quick to the point where it was nothing more than a loud, obnoxious stain. What, was Michael Bay second camera? There was even some part where Batman (pupil) is fighting Ducard (master) and Ducard says something about having taught Batman everything he knows; doesn’t he have any new tricks? To which Batman answers, “How about this?” But I’ll be damned if I have any idea what Batman showed him/did to him. Something with his wrists, but I really can’t say for sure. Because the editing was so unnecessarily rapid fire. Getting back to what’s good, I will say that the dialogue tended to be snappy and crisp and intelligent. Especially when Bruce Wayne talks about going to parties which feature “weaponized hallucinogens.” Too bad he sounds so funny talking about the same thing with his mask on.


*So, the plan is that Ducard is going to… I really don’t even know how to describe this… OK, so there is this blue flower that Batman has to pick before he can climb the mountain and train with the Shadow Leaguers. Well, it turns out that if you inhale the dust of the flower, then you trip out and it makes you afraid. Fear. Oh, the word “fear” is spoken 517 times in this film. Anyhow, so, the plan is to put this drug inside of other drugs and smuggle it into Gotham and then get it into the water supply and then using a stolen mircrowave water vaporizer… I’m just going to stop and laugh now, not at the film, but at myself for actually believing part of an interview I read where David Goyer (The co-writer and the man who among other things has written all three Blade films) was saying how Christopher Nolan was being such a hard-ass about keeping the film real. I believe his exact quote was, “It’s gotta be grounded. It’s gotta be real.” How that applies to “weaponized hallucinogens” is anybody’s guess. I should mention though, the idea of an entire city getting “the fear” and then tearing each other to shreds, well, that’s cool. Unfortunately A) It wasn’t allowed to happen and B) John Carpenter already did it.

About

Jonny was the site’s co-founder and helped carry the place in the early years. There was a falling out with Erich and he left the site for good, but a lot of his reviews live on. He has moved on to a successful career writing about cars. Look him up.

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